Feb 22 2013
Yesterday, a jury convicted Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin of six out of the seven charges that had been brought against her. The campaign corruption charges related to the misuse of court resources in her 2003 and 2009 campaigns for the Supreme Court.
This is a dark hour for Pennsylvania. Judges are supposed to be the pillars upon which our system of laws stand – the gatekeepers of our justice, the wise and even hands in which we place our trust.
It’s time for something to change.
A Philadelphia Daily News editorial points
to Orie Melvin’s conviction as a strong indicator that the way our appellate judges are selected is flawed and should be replaced by a system of Merit Selection. The editorial notes that it’s rare for a Supreme Court justice to be convicted of a crime, but points out that some recent
cases where a Supreme Court justice did fall under the scrutiny of the law – such as in Michigan, where Justice Diane Hathaway resigned in January following her conviction for bank fraud, or in New York, where Justice Thomas J. Spargo was convicted of attempted extortion and attempted soliciting of a bribe – happened to occur in states where judges are elected, not appointed.
The editorial also cites a Brennan Center for Justice report, which identified Michigan and Pennsylvania as the two costliest states for recent judicial elections. Justice Orie Melvin and rival candidate Jack Panella raised a combined $5.4 million during the 2009 campaign for the Supreme Court bench.
Orie Melvin’s crimes could only have happened in a system where we elect our judges. We need judges who are impartial and unbiased, and who have reached the bench because of exemplary character, knowledge, and excellence – not because they are willing to sacrifice scruple on the altar of victory.
While Merit Selection isn’t a perfect system, it takes judges out of the fundraising and campaigning business and goes a long way toward keeping politics out of our courtrooms. It’s time for judicial selection reform in Pennsylvania. We deserve better.